Utah faces boycott after Mormon work for Prop 8

SALT LAKE CITY – Utah's growing tourism industry and the star-studded Sundance Film Festival are being targeted for a boycott by bloggers, gay rights activists and others seeking to punish the Mormon church for its aggressive promotion of California's ban on gay marriage.

It could be a heavy price to pay. Tourism brings in $6 billion a year to Utah, with world-class skiing, a spectacular red rock country and the film festival founded by Robert Redford, among other popular tourist draws.

"At a fundamental level, the Utah Mormons crossed the line on this one," said gay rights activist John Aravosis, an influential blogger in Washington, D.C.

"They just took marriage away from 20,000 couples and made their children bastards," he said. "You don't do that and get away with it."

Salt Lake City is the world headquarters for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which counts about 62 percent of Utah residents as members.

The church encouraged its members to work to pass California's Proposition 8 by volunteering their time and money for the campaign. Thousands of Mormons worked as grassroots volunteers and gave tens of millions of dollars to the campaign.

The ballot measure passed Tuesday. It amends the California Constitution to define marriage as a heterosexual act, overriding a state Supreme Court ruling that briefly gave same-sex couples the right to wed.

The backlash against the church — and by extension Utah — has been immediate. Protests erupted outside Mormon temples, Facebook groups formed telling people to boycott Utah, and Web sites such as mormonsstoleourrights.com began popping up, calling for an end to the church's tax-exempt status.

Church spokeswoman Kim Farah said in a statement about the temple protests Friday that it is "disturbing" that the church is being singled out for exercising its right to speak up in a free election.

"While those who disagree with our position on Proposition 8 have the right to make their feelings known, it is wrong to target the Church and its sacred places of worship for being part of the democratic process," Farah said.

The church had said in a statement after Tuesday's vote that "no one on any side of the question should be vilified, intimidated, harassed or subject to erroneous information."

Aravosis is the editor of the popular americablog.com, which has about 900,000 unique monthly visitors.

He is calling for skiers to choose any state but Utah and for Hollywood actors and directors to pull out of the Sundance Film Festival. Other bloggers and readers have responded to his call.

"There's a movement afoot and large donors are involved who are very interested in organizing a campaign, because I do not believe in frivolous boycotts," said Aravosis, who has helped organize boycotts against "Dr. Laura" Schlessinger's television show, Microsoft and Ford over gay rights issues.

"The main focus is going to be going after the Utah brand," he said. "At this point, honestly, we're going to destroy the Utah brand. It is a hate state."

Gay rights groups did not immediately weigh in on calls for a boycott. Jim Key, spokesman for the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center, said he had heard little about such an effort.

"It's not something that we have called for, but we do think it is important to send a message to the Mormon church," Key said. He noted an effort run by the center to overturn Proposition 8 that sends a postcard to the Mormon church president with each contribution made.

A Sundance spokeswoman didn't return messages. Leigh von der Esch, managing director of the Utah Office of Tourism, said that she's aware there's been discussion of a boycott, but that her office hadn't received any calls about it Thursday. State offices are closed Friday.

"We're respectful of both sides of the equation and realize it's an emotional issue, but we are here promoting what we think is the best state in the country," she said.

What kind of economic, religious or political impact, if any, a boycott might have is unclear. The Mormon church has members all over the world and no plans to change its stance on gay marriage.

Aravosis is not calling for a boycott of California, though that state's voters actually approved the ban.

"At this point, the Californians are the victims and the Mormons are the persecutors," he said. "We had won this until they swept in. ... We need to send a message to Utah that they need to stop trying to inflict their way of life on every other state."

Bob Malone, CEO and president of the Park City Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau, said it is unfair to try to punish certain industries or parts of the state over an issue it had nothing to do with.

"It's really not a Park City thing, and I don't see it as a state thing. That was more of a religious issue," he said. "To sweep people in who really have nothing to do with that issue and have no influence over religious issues — it's sad that people kind of think that and say, 'We're going to bury you.' It's sad to hear people talk like that."


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